Aaron Todd

The Hidden Benefits of 4K Technology
By Aaron Todd

Broadcasting in 4K isn’t very accessible just yet. Though televisions capable of displaying 4K images have been out long enough to start reducing in price, there still isn’t that much content out there to fully utilize the capabilities of a 4K display. This is especially relevant for public, educational, and government access (PEG) broadcasters, many of which are still being forced to broadcast in a standard definition (SD) format due to constraints placed on them by the local cable operators they feed. Today, only a handful of PEG facilities are broadcasting in high definition, let alone 4K.

For them and many like them, 4K appears to be an inconsequential format. This, however, is only half true. The development and subsequent furthering of 4K technology is fantastic news for PEG broadcasters and it has very little to do with the resolution itself, but rather the compression format being developed to contain it.

4K, or Ultra HD, pushes a huge amount of data, much more than typical HD programming. Use the table below to get an idea of the kind of bitrates these formats are dealing with:

Transport

Video Format Examples

Associated Bitrate

SD-SDI

480i (SD) 270Mbit/s

HD-SDI

720p, 1080i (HD)

1.485Gbit/s

6G-SDI 2160p30 (4K)

6Gbit/s

12G-SDI 2160p60 (4K)

12Gbit/s

Because of this, compression standards need to be updated to make 4K even mildly viable for the current market. Enter H.265: the latest and greatest compression standard developed for the emergence of 4K content.

H.265, or HEVC, improves on its predecessor’s design (H.264) by utilizing similar compression technology to a further extent. In H.264 (this is a tremendous oversimplification) blocks of pixels are sectioned off. Redundant pixels can be removed entirely, and then replaced with other pixels already in place when the video is played back. H.265 largely does the same thing, but in addition to a variety of other improvements, those “blocks” of redundant pixels can be much larger, allowing further compression.

How much of an improvement is H.265 over H.264? Some reports list as much as double the compression! This is of course totally necessary considering the file size of 4K videos, but what about regular HD videos, or even SD videos? This is where the “hidden benefit of 4K” to PEG broadcasters comes into play.

4k_Size_comparison_710x375

Pixel (and Subsequently File Size) Comparison Across Formats

Bandwidth is an increasingly valuable resource for broadcasters everywhere. In the words of David Leighton, President and CEO of LEIGHTRONIX, “bandwidth is the new currency.” There has actually been a bit of a land grab (or “air grab,” if we’re being specific) as of late, as the FCC has been proposing the purchase of station frequencies from broadcasters across the country with an intent to auction off the bandwidth to larger organizations. The reason for this is simple: we’re sending and receiving more and more data with every passing year and it’s becoming difficult to contain it all. An easy solution to this problem without the need of revamped infrastructure (or auctioning off channels) is more efficient compression standards. Imagine how small your HD video files would be at twice the compression as H.264. An SD video would be comparably tiny after being compressed. When base file sizes go down so too do transfer times, archive space requirements, and more. Smaller file sizes equate to a better workflow in the long run.

As great as H.265 could be for PEG broadcasters, there is one big caveat: very little equipment supports it. Even big-named organizations with huge budgets would have to replace a great deal of their equipment just to utilize the compression technology. With that said, over time, H.265 will become the standard, just like H.264 before it, and MPEG-2 before H.264.

Even if your organization doesn’t plan to utilize 4K video in the future (or at all), the emergence of larger video files is a great thing for broadcasters everywhere. Eventually, all broadcasting equipment will be built to support this extremely efficient form of compression.

Aaron is an engineer and network manager for the company and is responsible for web interface development of many LEIGHTRONIX video encoder products. He is also responsible for development and maintenance of the VieBit® streaming content service as well as the architecture and maintenance of in-house servers.

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